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    Founded at UCL’s School of Public Policy, the International Public Policy Review provides a forum for debate, discussion and online networking in the emerging fields of Global Governance and International Public Policy. As a rigorous student-led academic journal, it publishes both original research and innovative commentary from within the School of Public Policy's postgraduate community.
  • “Now for the Long Term”: The Report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations

    By Lucy Phillips, on 6 April 2014

    By Laetitia Sanchez Incera

    "Now for the Long Term" speakers

    “Now for the Long Term” speakers

    On 26 February, the International Public Policy Review (IPPR) organised an event presenting the report “Now for the Long Term” by the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations. This event, which was chaired by Dr Colin Provost, gathered four sustainable development specialists: Professor Ian Goldin, Professor Paul Ekins, Michael Jacobs and Camilla Toulmin.

    The talk began with Ian Goldin’s presentation of the report. He explained that the world today is at a crossroads: it has been experiencing the fastest growth ever over the last 25 years, but this growth is threatened by various accompanying and unintended consequences, such as climate change, soil erosion and increasing inequality. These issues remain a key source of frustration for many policy makers. With regards to the future, for them, the problem is not a lack of knowledge, but rather the gulf between knowledge and action; the difficulty in moving from policy to practice.

    “Now for the Long Term” is composed of three sections. The first section comprises a summary of today’s biggest challenges, whilst the second considers the lessons of history. The report points to the role of crisis in generating change, and the existence of occasions when shared interests led to resolutions, such as in the creation of the European Union or agreements at Bretton Woods. The role of institutions are also emphasised, most particularly with regards their ability to foster international cooperation under common goals (e.g. the Millennium Development Goals). Despite the existence of several success stories, some trends continue to undermine the potential for international co-operation and policy making. Perhaps most importantly, democracy is increasingly “short-term,” limited by election cycles and distorted by powerful lobbies. The large number of institutions has led to disillusionment with their ability to bring about change, whilst the long-term characteristics of many issues means that it is increasingly difficult to identify cause and effect.

    Having presented the major global issues and deliberated what we might learn from the past, the third section of the report looks to the future. It offers up a series of principles and practical recommendations that might just pave the way for the future we so covet. Suggestions include a focus on investment in younger generations, and a shaking up of existing institutions, making them more innovative and transparent. The importance of breaking the monopoly of governments seems particularly pertinent, with calls for the promotion of creative coalitions. A particularly forward-thinking example of such a coalition is the suggested ‘C-20 C-30 C-40’ which brings together countries, companies and cities over the issue of climate change. The final improvement, upon which the success of the above suggestions perhaps rests, is the creation of ‘shared’ global values – a common platform of understanding.

    In response to Ian Goldin’s presentation, Michael Jacobs, Professor Ekins and Camilla Toulmin each made their comments. Michael Jacobs agreed with the assertion that efforts to deal with public goods require collective solutions, but he feared that the importance of public mobilisation had been underplayed.  The mobilisation of the public, he argued, is intrinsic to helping to restore governments’ lost authority, providing them with the leverage they need to act internationally. To support his argument, Jacobs contrasted the success of Gordon Brown’s popular ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign with the UN Copenhagen Summit on climate change, a disappointing Conference undermined by a notable lack of public mobilisation.

    Whilst also a strong advocate of the creation of creative coalitions, Camilla Toulmin was particularly interested in understanding why people are reluctant to consider the “long-term”, and in identifying ways to reward those who do. She stressed that short-term or ‘myopic’ tendencies in banking and finance are particularly problematic. The banking sector remains highly sceptical of the long-term efficacy of carbon cutting policies, which unfortunately, translates into an aversion to change for the common good.

    For Professor Ekins, the current state of politics makes it extremely difficult to promote the wellbeing of future generations. As regional powers have gained traction and influence, the conditions which led to cooperative success in past decades have been eroded. In spite of these difficulties, Ekins pointed to two areas which should be prioritised: the removal of subsidies that distort prices, and the protection of privacy, which is increasingly under threat.

    Having deliberated over the various recommendations in the report, the speakers came round to discussing one of the most vexing global issues – climate change. Having taken a back-seat in recent years with the outbreak of the financial crisis, climate change is now back on the political agenda. As states meet to prepare for a Climate change conference in Paris in 2015, debates have arisen over the optimal extent of participation in climate policy.  Should participation be limited to the main polluters – China, the US, the EU and Japan? Or would this grouping erode global legitimacy, instead coming to be seen as a ‘conspiracy of polluters?’ Whilst the speakers might have disagreed over the issues embroiled in this upcoming conference, they were united in their belief that alongside the work of states and NGOs, public mobilization plays a vital role in giving momentum to these causes at such key points in time.

    In all, the Oxford Martin Report marks an important first step in efforts to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Though many are aware of such issues, be it climate change or the ongoing proliferation of HIV, this report is devoted to actionable change through innovative and practical solutions. Whilst the speakers pointed to the considerable breadth of the report as a point of weakness, arguably it is this all-encompassing nature which also lends it it’s strength. The report also, quite uniquely, provides a framework for new and innovative multi-scale collaborations, beyond the assumed mantra of government-led change. Whilst its ‘real’ impact remains to be seen, the report has been very well received, providing a much needed shake-up to debates over global governance.

    Sea change: Environmental refugees and “the defining challenge of our time”

    By Claire McNear, on 13 March 2014

    By Claire McNear

    “It is not for the High Court of New Zealand to alter the scope of the Refugee Convention…. Rather that is the task, if they so choose, of the legislatures of sovereign states.”

    So wrote New Zealand High Court judge John Priestley in his November 2013 denial of a rather unusual legal petition: a man from Kiribati was seeking to become the world’s first environmental refugee.

    The Refugee Convention Priestley refers to is the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1952 international treaty establishing who is eligible for refugee status and what rights he or she is entitled to, most notably asylum. The Refugee Convention is the backbone of international refugee law today; in 2012 alone, 893,700 people submitted applications for asylum, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

    It was under this convention that Ioane Teitiota sought to remain in New Zealand. Teitiota first came to New Zealand in 2007. When his work visa expired in early 2013, he faced deportation back to his native Kiribati, along with his wife and their three children. Teitiota appealed, claiming in the Auckland High Court that he and his family would face “serious harm” and suffering if they were made to return.

    Tarawa Lagoon in the capital of Kiribati, South Tarawa. The lagoon is heavily polluted, and visitors are advised to avoid its waters. Courtesy Luigi Guarino / Flickr

    Tarawa Lagoon in the capital of Kiribati, South Tarawa. The lagoon is heavily polluted, and visitors are advised to avoid its waters. Courtesy Luigi Guarino / Flickr

    The plight of Kiribati is a serious one. The central Pacific island nation, home to 100,000, is made up of 33 low-lying atolls, which at their highest point are just 2 meters above sea level. Faced with rising seas that have already caused widespread water contamination and crop damage, Kiribati teeters at the edge of catastrophe: its president has said that the entire nation may be uninhabitable in as little as 30 years. In October 2011, just months after issuing the nation a $20 million grant to devise methods to cope with climate change that was followed shortly thereafter by $2 million in emergency food aid, the World Bank published a report calling Kiribati “one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change,” citing rising seas, agricultural damage, and exposure to extreme weather events like cyclones. So great is the sense of impending crisis that the Kiribati government recently purchased a 6,000-acre tract in neighboring Fiji for agricultural, and perhaps future resettlement, purposes. Neighboring, that is, only in the sense that it one of the nearest significant landmasses in the Pacific Ocean: Fiji lies some 2,100 miles to the southwest, and is facing its own environmental and social crises for many of the same reasons as Kiribati.

    Teitiota’s claims of the potential for harm on returning to Kiribati are not, then, without basis. But in order to qualify as a refugee under the UN’s Refugee Convention, a person must fear persecution upon returning home. Teitiota’s legal team attempted a novel tact: they argued that Teitiota was being “persecuted passively” by the environment. Furthermore, they argued, Teitiota could reasonably be thought to suffer from human persecution as well, because “climate change is believed to be caused by the pollution humans generate” – a proposition supported by an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report last year.

    Teitiota’s lawyer argued that the international community’s refugee laws are outdated. “The refugee convention which came into effect at the end of the Second World War needs to be changed, to incorporate people who are fleeing climate catastrophe,” he told Radio New Zealand.

    Kiribati is just one of a number of island nations whose existences are threatened by rising seas, among them the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and Tokelau. The world’s oceans have risen an average of 3.2 millimeters each year since 1970, a rate that is expected to accelerate; scientists theorize that seas could rise by more than one meter by the end of the century.

    The future of the Maldives, a nation of 338,000 that lies 250 miles off the southwest coast of India, looks much like that of Kiribati. The former Maldivian president, Mohamed Nasheed, has become a kind of self-appointed emissary on this count, traveling the globe to raise awareness of the Maldives’s plight. Given the combined effects of rising seas, overfishing, pollution, and overreliance on a tourist industry that might well vanish as waves wash away the white sand beaches and corrals bleach and die in acidified seas, Nasheed has put the odds of his grandchildren inheriting an inhabitable Maldives at 50–50.

    It is not just a matter of rising seas. Another phenomenon linked to global warming might prove even more catastrophic: the rise of extreme weather events. Adding to the problem is the fact that more people around the world are moving to coastal areas, where they are more at risk of severe disasters like typhoons. In 2003, 3 billion people lived within 200 kilometers of a coastline; by 2025, this number is likely to double.

    A recent study by the Asian Development Bank predicted that given the combined effects of losses to agriculture, fisheries, and tourism, the GDPs of Pacific island nations stand to decline by 15% by 2100. One of the first researchers to highlight the threats of dramatic sea level rise, Jodi Jacobson, drew on worst case scenarios about sea levels in 1988 to predict that there might be six times as many environmental refugees as political refugees in the coming years.

    The UN’s high commissioner for refugees has called climate change–related displacement “the defining challenge of our time.”

    The Gilbert Islands, Kiribati. Courtesy Charly W. Karl / Flickr

    The Gilbert Islands, Kiribati. Courtesy Charly W. Karl / Flickr

    Which brings us back to Iaone Teitiota’s argument for refugee status: that he is in fact being persecuted by other people, because climate change, with its resultant disasters for Kiribati, is a manmade effect, as the IPCC suggested in its report. Looking at this more closely, we can understand the argument another way. Teitiota, as a resident of a low-lying island nation all but doomed by global warming, is facing persecution at the hands of the residents of countries producing the CO2 that caused the climate change in the first place – no small claim when the world’s top 6 emitters contribute 64% of annual emissions. That is, significant CO2 producers in developed nations are persecuting non-major CO2 producers in the developing world who will suffer adverse effects as a result of emissions, and thus are subsequently responsible, in the case of New Zealand, for providing people like Teitiota and his family with a new, safer home: a kind of refugeeism as loss and damage. The New Zealand High Court rejected this argument, but more, it seems, on the grounds of insufficient jurisdiction than anything else.

    Is the existing UN Refugee Convention insufficient to cover the needs of today’s world? If we open the door to environmental refugees, can we put in appropriate controls to protect the rights of host countries? One of the New Zealand judge’s rationales for denying asylum was that Teitiota’s position “does not appear to be different from that of any other Kiribati national,” meaning that to grant him asylum would mean potentially granting it to all citizens of Kiribati, and indeed to all people who could demonstrate that their homes and livelihoods were endangered by climate change. If asylum were to be granted, Judge Priestley wrote, “at a stroke, millions of people who are facing medium-term economic deprivation, or the immediate consequences of natural disasters or warfare, or indeed presumptive hardships caused by climate change, would be entitled to protection under the Refugee Convention.” Judge Priestley demurred, stating that it is not the place of the New Zealand High Court to make such a decision – rather it is one that must be made by the international community, and more specifically the United Nations.

    We might consider environmental refugees a new type of stateless person, who are afforded substantial protections in international law under a 1954 UN convention. If Kiribati and the Maldives have ceased to be habitable, as predictions hold they will in the coming decades, have the nations of Kiribati and the Maldives ceased to exist? There are other possibilities: we saw that the Kiribati government purchased land in Fiji to grow food, with the quiet suggestion that the land might serve as a new base for Kiribati residents should their current home become unlivable. The Kiribati government has also reportedly talked with a Japanese firm “about the possibility of constructing a floating island,” a Waterworld-esque possibility that is very much in vogue with today’s technocrats, and which would cost in the billions of dollars. (Kiribati has a GDP of $176 million.) Or should it be the case – will it be the case, as there is no indication that the threats these islands face will abate in the foreseeable future – that those forced by environmental changes to leave their homes over the coming decades take on new national identities? Even within the Kiribati government, views on this issue are divided. Rimon Rimon, a government spokesman, suggested that the government’s resources would be better spent teaching citizens the professional skills they will need to thrive in new homes abroad. It seems that the international community will be forced to make a decision about the validity and status of environmental refugees soon enough: others have submitted pleas for asylum as environmental refugees before, though none has been successful, and many more are sure to do so in the coming years as seas rise, storms intensify, and populations grow.

    As for Ioane Teitiota? He is appealing the New Zealand High Court’s decision. Should that fail, “the family hopes an appeal to the Immigration Minister or the public is more successful.”

    The Warsaw Mechanism: Loss and damage at the UN

    By Claire McNear, on 10 March 2014

    By Claire McNear

    Wreckage from Typhoon Haiyan.

    Wreckage from Typhoon Haiyan.

    On November 23 of last year, the United Nations’ annual climate change conference, known as the Conference of the Parties, concluded in Warsaw. COP-19, as this round was called, was widely regarded as a failure, with The Guardian eulogizing it with a column titled “How rich countries dodged the climate change blame game in Warsaw,” writing, “By virtue only of the fact the meeting actually went ahead and that all the countries have agreed to turn up again in Peru next December, it was a stepping-stone of sorts,” and adding that “[t]he steps in Warsaw towards a new climate change deal looked more like shuffling of feet.”

    The Warsaw talks opened just four days after Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines. The cyclone’s winds were the strongest ever recorded in a typhoon; the storm and resulting damage have been blamed for more than 6,000 deaths in the Philippines, with the total cost of damages and rebuilding estimated at $5.8 billion. The Filipino delegate, Yeb Sano, addressed the opening session of COP-19 near tears, begging his fellow delegates to “stop this madness” and noting that it had been just a year since Typhoon Bopha, a Category 5 super typhoon that claimed nearly 2,000 lives in the Philippines and caused more than $1 billion in damages, and which was then thought to be a once-in-a-generation disaster. Sano pledged to fast throughout the COP “until a meaningful outcome is in sight.” He received a standing ovation.

    There were high hopes that COP-19 might yield substantive commitments to help nations affected by extreme weather events, widely considered a symptom of global climate change. These events include what are termed “sudden-onset” disasters – hurricanes, cyclones, floods – as well as “slow-onset” events, such as droughts that cause desertification. The world has seen a dramatic increase in the incidence of both types of events over the last two decades; a landmark report last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the first time directly attributed global warming and many of its resultant ecological effects to human activity.

    Together, the effects of these sudden- and slow-onset events are referred to as “loss and damage.” Many nations, the Philippines not least among them, entered COP-19 intent on establishing measures to offset loss and damage – a formalized mechanism to guarantee immediate disaster relief as well as funding for the development of infrastructure, like floodwalls and early warning systems, to lessen vulnerability to future disasters and help states adjust to longer-term problems like rising seas.

    There have been such hopes before: the Green Climate Fund was established at 2009’s COP-15 in Copenhagen to accomplish just this sort of international disaster relief. Wealthy nations promised to deliver $100 billion by 2020, with $10 billion a year coming in for the three years beginning in 2011. None of this money has materialized. After fractious debate on this point at last year’s COP-18, many observers expected action in Warsaw.

    Progress on these issues has been stymied by the unusual framework of the COP negotiations. At 1992’s UN Earth Summit, one of the first international conferences to seriously address climate change, participating nations were divided into two groups: Annex I, consisting of states which were then members of the OECD as well as several “economies in transition” including Russia, and non-Annex I, all other states. The idea at the time was that Annex I was made up of wealthy, industrialized nations that would lead the way on fighting climate change and reducing CO2 emissions, while the poorer and less economically developed non-Annex I countries – what we might think of now as the developing world – would do what they could according to their own judgment of their capabilities. This binary between developed and developing countries – as defined in 1992 – remains locked in place today, with non-Annex I developing countries for the most part exempt from any requirements to curb emissions or contribute to relief programs like the Green Climate Fund.

    Much of the bitterness in international climate change negotiations stems from the fact that wealthy, industrialized nations have historically contributed – and in many cases continue to contribute – the vast majority of emissions en route to their wealth and industrialization. There has been a 40% increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution, and today’s top six emitters (counting the European Union as one) account for 64% of the world’s CO2 emissions, according to the UN. For smaller and poorer countries like Kiribati and Tuvalu whose CO2 contributions are negligible but who now face existential threats from rising seas, the particular injustice is that even as rich countries contribute most to climate change, they are almost uniformly the countries best proofed against adverse climate change events, whether through natural geography or superior infrastructure and ability to respond to disasters at home.

    The wealthy Annex I nations have for the most part denied that they should be responsible for a disproportionate amount of loss and damage contributions, pointing to countries like China and India, which are both classified as non-Annex I developing nations under the COP framework – a categorization that made far more sense in 1992 than it does in 2014 – and thus exempt from many of the more demanding requirements, even as they contribute roughly 23% and 5% of current global emissions, respectively. (“Demanding,” of course, is a relative term in climate negotiations, as extraordinarily little of what has been agreed to, most notably in 1997 in Kyoto, has actually been enacted, whether in terms of emission reductions or aid to developing nations. However, as the effects of climate change have dramatically worsened over the last decade, with international scientific consensus about its causes amassing alongside catastrophes like Typhoon Haiyan, there is a growing sense at meetings like the COP summits that something must finally be done, and soon.) When it comes to loss and damage contributions, rich countries are loath to commit to providing financial relief of unspecified magnitude over an unspecified period of time, particularly when the consensus is that climate problems are only going to get worse – and perhaps dramatically so – in the foreseeable future.

    Still, some progress was made in Warsaw. In response to the Green Climate Fund’s nonexistent funding, COP-19 produced only a resolution about beginning the “initial resource mobilization process” next year, which the BBC praised as winner of “a global prize for vagueness.” However, after a walkout was staged by developing countries over the lack of progress on loss and damage issues, a potentially effective international instrument was created in the form of the Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage, which will establish a fund to help poorer states deal with both “extreme events and slow onset events.”

    In theory, the Warsaw Mechanism will succeed where the Green Climate Fund failed, committing rich nations not just to speedier financial support but to the sharing of data and technology that might mediate the effects of climate change. And yet many worry that its vague wording will condemn it to failure as well: India’s The Hindu noted that “almost all developed countries had made clear that there was no hope of them committing either to a timeline for delivery of promised funds at Warsaw.”

    As for the Filipino delegate, he broke his fast at the conclusion of the COP, though he noted, as he prepared for a first meal of vegetable juice, that the conference had failed to produce “the kind of outcome I thought would have been meaningful.”

    Where Obama stands now: The Keystone XL pipeline

    By Claire McNear, on 6 March 2014

    By Aydan Sarikaya

    An oil sands extraction plant in Alberta, Canada.

    An oil sands extraction plant in Alberta, Canada.

    The Keystone XL pipeline is and has been perhaps the most controversial environmental and energy debate for President Barack Obama’s administration in the United States. The proposed pipeline stretches from Alberta’s tar sands fields to the Gulf of Mexico. It would cross a number of states, laying 1,179 miles of pipeline through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, and would connect to a series of existing pipeline segments in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Ultimately, the pipeline would carry up to 830,000 barrels of heavy crude oil a day from Canada down to the southern United States. Because of the pipeline’s trans-boundary nature, the last 875 miles of the pipeline still need to be approved by the President, a decision he will base on the recently released Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) distributed by the State Department.

    The EIS is a compilation of research done by a third party on the environmental impact of the extraction, transportation, and possible leaks of the heavy tar-like black oil, bitumen, one of the crudest forms of oil. The EIS raised no major environmental objections to the pipeline. However, the third party firm that conducted the EIS, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), is shrouded in controversy. Typically, an EIS is paid for by the applicant, in this case the energy company TransCanada, in order to avoid costs to taxpayers. TransCanada previously offered up a different third party to conduct the EIS, but it was found that there was a conflict of interest between the two, leading to ERM as the next viable candidate. Since then, news outlets including Bloomberg Businessweek, CNN, and the BBC have uncovered that ERM listed TransCanada in its promotional materials a year before beginning work on the EIS. In response to the controversy, the State Department, which awarded the EIS contract to ERM, has assured the public that ERM conducted an unbiased EIS. As it stands, the EIS is now open for a 90-day comment period, allowing other US agencies and the general public to raise their concerns.

    The Keystone XL pipeline has created huge divides between environmentalists, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and energy companies. Extraction of tar sands oil requires one of the most environmentally detrimental procedures of any type of oil collection, involving the clearing of plants and churning of topsoil, leaving a barren landscape behind. Environmentalists worry that though the extraction is occurring on Canadian soil, a sign-off on the pipeline would encourage American oil and energy companies to begin tar sands oil production within the United States. Others see the potential for policy backpedaling or worse from President Obama, including Arizona House Democrat Raúl Grijalva, who wrote an op-ed for the New York Times reiterating that President Obama has consistently stressed the importance of strong policies on climate change and environmental preservation, beginning in his 2008 presidential campaign and carrying through to his most recent State of the Union address. The result, Grijalva argued, is that the Keystone XL pipeline may be the President’s most important decision related to the environment since arriving in office.

    After years of delays, the Keystone XL pipeline proposal is on its way to approval by the State Department. After the 90-day comment period, a review of the Environmental Impact Statement may be made. Once that is completed, the EIS must be accepted by the State Department, leaving the final decision on approval of the pipeline to the President.

    If the President wishes to maintain his reputation as a champion of green issues, then it is vital that he understand what opening a tar sands oil pipeline across the United States will mean for the future of the American oil industry. There are both costs and benefits related to environmental degradation, as well as the prospect of jobs and energy independence. Obama’s decision may affect Congressional elections as well as pave the way for tar sands oil production in the US. Oil extraction and climate change go hand in hand; the trouble is that there is more money in the oil industry than there is working toward mitigating climate change. Obama must consider the consequences carefully and decide how much he is willing to risk on one of the most important and controversial environmental decisions of his presidency.

    “Septic” science

    By Claire McNear, on 15 February 2014

    By Harriet Bradley, IPPR Environment Columnist

    Prince Charles and Scarlett Johansson both made headlines at the end of January over their battles with corporations. Unlike Johansson, the less-glossy Charles defied corporate interests, by attacking the funding of climate scepticism by powerful lobby groups. Could shining a light on the sources of climate scepticism through public statements like these help to change the discourse surrounding climate change from a question of science to a question of power?

    It would be a mistake to let one’s ideological aversion to the inherited privilege of the monarchy overshadow the content of Charles’ recent comments. As Paul Vallely, a visiting professor of public ethics at the University of Chester, commented, “In practice the Prince, like the House of Lords, offers a useful practical long-term antidote to the short-term posturing of elected politicians.” There is certainly a moral case for accusing privileged public figures of hypocrisy when they criticise abuses of power and wealth, but the reality is that such public figureheads can help to get these sorts of debates out of the circles of the already interested, and into those circles where climate scepticism remains influential.

    The scientific evidence that climate change is man-made is overwhelming. So too is the evidence of corporate funding of major climate sceptic groups, such as the Heartland Institute in the US, “the world’s most prominent think-tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change.” Its funders have included some of America’s largest corporations including the Koch oil billionaires, GlaxoSmithKline, Microsoft and RJR Tobacco.

    The campaign to discredit man-made climate change science by those who recognise the costs curbing it could impose on polluters has been likened to the propaganda effort by tobacco firms to cast doubt on the findings of those scientists who first suggested that smoking might be harmful to health in the 1960s and 1970s. Sowing seeds of doubt is a highly effective tactic to undermine the ability of scientists raising climate concerns. Indeed, in 2012 it was leaked that the Heartland Institute was funding a campaign in American schools to teach that “the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.” This all suggests that we must look beyond state actors to understand the powerful networks of economic interests that influence national and international discourses on issues like smoking and climate change.

    So, are human beings rational actors who weigh the costs and benefits of a given action? Considering the effects of climate change are already being felt in developed and developing countries alike, from the most destructive typhoon the Philippines’ history late last year, to flood damage in the UK, to unprecedented hurricanes in New York, to the melting of the polar ice caps, it seems that climate change denialism is not rational from the point of view of long-term economic and other interests. Given the stakes are so high, to explicitly claim, as countries including Canada, Russia, Japan, the US and the UK have, that any real trade-off between economic growth and cutting pollution is unjustifiable seems implausible.

    In the context of the recession, the Conservatives’ 2010 election slogan to “vote blue, go green,” alongside their pledge to build a green economy, has seemingly given way to the traditional dichotomy between economy and ecology. The UK’s Secretary for the Environment Owen Patterson, who publicly denies man-made climate change, has overseen a 41% decline in spending on domestic climate change initiatives this financial year, given the green light to shale gas extraction and opposed the EU’s call for binding renewable energy production targets. With powerful representatives of multinational corporations such as the Chairman of Nestlé (self-proclaimed as “the world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company” and with its own Commitment on Climate Change) coming out with the same denialism just last week, it seems that climate change “scepticaemia” amongst businesses and our elected politicians is endemic. If unchecked in the public arena, such discourses provide governments with an excuse to backtrack on national and international environmental policies, as appears to be happening.

    All this goes to show that in this case, Charles has touched on something very important in the arena of environmental politics.

    Statements like Prince Charles’ which confront the power relationships behind scientific scepticism have the power, in theory, to alter public discourse on climate change, sowing their own seeds of doubt about the basis for scepticism, and alerting us to the importance of interrogating our sources of information. The heir to the throne may embody a non-democratic institution, but his speech demonstrated both a willingness to speak out about globally powerful non-democratic forces that many would argue currently dominate the policy agenda, and an opportunity to reinvigorate political support for policies in the long-term public interest.